On the Covid-19 Crisis in India

Padam Kumar

We feel deeply concerned about handling of the crisis that has arisen from the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation amply demonstrates that the Modi Government at the centre miserably failed to learn any lesson from the havoc played by this pandemic in 2020.

The First Wave of Covid-19

The first wave in 2020 had exposed the Government’s unpreparedness and knee jerk response by imposing ill-conceived and a most stringent nationwide lockdown on a short notice of 4 hours which consequently pushed a large number of migrant workers to walk hundreds and thousands of kilometres back to their villages for their sustenance. The beeline of people walking on highways with injured feet, women driving rikshaw load with family and domestic articles, the girl cycling her sick father and the child sleeping on a suitcase wheeled by her mother. Scramble by the workers at railway stations and bus stops for seats, facing police action with wanton disregard for human life. Many had lost their life on the way for want of food and medicines. These pictures had shaken the conscience of the civilized people the world over.

The virus did not enter India unexpectedly. It came with warning on 30th Jan 2020. The Government was expected to prepare the nation psychologically and materially to face the challenge. However, the Prime Minister was busy in organizing ‘Trump Namaste’. Assembly elections in Bihar were held when the virus was spreading quickly.

It was expected that Modi Government at the centre which had usurped all powers to take decision under Disaster Management Act would learn some lessons from its failure in tackling the situation in 2020. The people had a horrid experience due to morass in which they were led.

The Second Wave

The second wave has completely exposed the complacency and insufficient preparation of the Modi Government if a report published in Lancet Journal on 8th May 2021 is to be believed.

The Government had sufficient indication in the month of January 2020 that a new variant of the Covid-19 was on our doorstep. The scientists had warned that the second wave would be more severe which required more effective response from the central Government in cooperation with state governments. Time which should have been utilized for augmenting the health infrastructure of the country was spent in pushing forward anti people agenda viz. selling off public sector assets to chosen few, passing anti-labour four Labour Codes subsuming forty four Acts on Working class, legislating three Farm Laws paving way for Corporate loot of farming sector which would render millions of rural population destitute. Instead of making blue print for fighting Covid’s second wave effectively the Modi Government showed no will power to take care of public life and public health.

In the second wave the people gasped for oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators, ambulances, lifesaving drugs and crematoriums. Reports mention people dying in front of hospitals for want of corona beds and oxygen. Dead bodies floating in Ganges was a silent testimonial monument of all out failure of the Modi Government. Instead of preparing the nation to face the challenge the Prime minister was busy in election to four State Assemblies holding big rallies without any social distancing and masks. The Modi Government not only allowed Kumbh Mela where lakhs of people congregated flouting Covid protocol but also went ahead for holding Panchayat elections in UP. These three events proved super spreaders of the virus.

The international press and journals like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Economist and the medical Journal Lancet to name a few have severely indicted the Prime Minister Mr. Modi for abdication of his responsibilities. A genuine question arises as to what India should have done in five months in which numbers of infected people was low. Five months period is not a small period. This period of respite should have been used in building hospitals - temporary if not of pucca structure, production of oxygen and revamping of other medical support system and would have accelerated vaccine production.


From the graph shown below it is apparently clear that India is lagging behind in vaccination programme. The universal vaccination of the population would help the people in fighting virus in future. The Government’s vaccination programme is at a snail speed. Educating the people about the pandemic, effectiveness of the vaccines, logistics are necessary perquisite for success of the programme. A pro-active role of the Central Government is sine-qua-non in immunization of entire population of the country. We find total callousness and lukewarm attitude of the power that may be. A robust health infrastructure is required for the success of such programme. However, the Central Government is conspicuously absent in guiding the people and in providing wherewithal for such a campaign. It is a disturbing question for us as to why is India failing to vaccinate its people despite possessing the biggest vaccine capacity in the world?

We cannot avoid placing herein below some statistics necessary to understand the issue:

Before on set of current Covid-19 crisis, India’s share was 60% of vaccine sold world over. According to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) India has 21 vaccine manufactures with combined licensed production capacity of around eight billion doses per annum. But still the country is struggling badly in providing vaccine doses to the people. Other countries have vaccinated the entire population. The report submitted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on

Science and Technology on March 8, 2021 states on the basis of figures given to it by the government that Modi government made assumption that with Serum Institute providing 70-100 million doses with Bharat Biotech’s 12.5 million doses per month would meet the demand of our people as well as the export commitments. These numbers which in reality came down to 60 million doses per month are not sufficient to meet the demand of our people and with this pace it would take at least more than two and half year to vaccinate our country’s target population.

Courts Indictment

At least 14 High Courts came down heavily on the states and central government making severest criticism in respect of shortage of hospital beds, oxygen, ventilators and non-availability of life saving drugs. Madras High Court held Election Commission responsible for spreading the virus. Allahabad High Court held that health infrastructure is ‘Ram Bharose’.

On 04/05/2021 a bench of Justice Ajit Kumar and Siddharth Verma, Allahabad High court held that “death of corona virus patients due to shortage of oxygen at hospitals was a criminal act and not less than genocide”

Delhi High Court recently told to Centre for arrangement of oxygen “Beg, borrow or steal [oxygen], it is a national emergency.”

The Supreme Court hearing COVID pandemic issue raised a valid question and expressed reservation about the vaccine policy of the centre. It is worth mentioning here that the Supreme Court Bench had asked the Government to reconsider the existing policy and suggested that the centre should decide on the allocation of vaccine to states and delivery schedule instead of leaving it to the states to negotiate with two vaccine manufacturing companies. On pricing policy, the Court commented that the differential pricing would lead to discrimination of 18 to 44 age group particularly disadvantageous sections among them. The Court suggested a rational method of proceeding in a manner consistent with right to life (which includes right to health under Art. 21). The Government response, however, remained stubborn and it continued defending its flawed policy by saying that this was an area for the executive to decide and that should not be subject to interference of the Court.

Even today, there seems to be no action plan to take care of the future.

Unscientific Attitude of the Ministers

Though we are conscious of the fact that no system can claim to be perfect to take on unprecedented crisis like Covid-19, however, we are concerned about the response of the central Government headed by Modi to meet the challenge. It has utterly failed to rely on science. The ministers were found preaching unscientific methods. The Health Minister declared endgame of the virus. In middle of April 2021 Mr. Harsh- vardhan, the Health minister held a meeting of officers of various departments, regarding the research programme on indigenous cow, absurdly titled ‘Scientific Utilization Through Research Augmentation of Prime Products from Indigenous Cow’ (SUPRA-PIC). Under it various projects are being undertaken such as Scientific Validation of Panchgavya (a concoction of cow dung, cow milk, cow urine, curd and ghee). The Health Ministry is reported having allocated Rs. 100 crore for this programme. Recent episode involving Ramdev accusing allopathic system of medicines and allopathic doctors and no action by the Government against him on the complaint of the Indian Medical Association and ongoing attempts to protect Yoga Baba from prosecution is yet another sordid affair in this direction.

The Health System

The health system of India has not collapsed overnight. The number of hospitals situated in urban as well as in rural India is dismally insufficient. Doctors and para medical staff vis a vis population in percentage is nowhere near the internationally accepted norms. The health infrastructure is required to be revamped keeping in view the requirement of our population.

Only Insurance is Not the Solution

We do not oppose insurance schemes of the Government, but only insurance is not the solution. Public health had largely been left at the mercy of insurance companies. Nominal government hospitals remained only in urban areas which are wholly insufficient to cater to the needs of the vast population. Only 30% of the population lives in urban areas of India.

Betrayal by Private Insurance Companies

Today in this Covid-19 crisis is the real time to understand the character of the profiteering insurance companies. We are witnessing that profiteering companies are not paying the claims to the insurance policies holders. People have been left helpless. We cannot expect mercy from private sector. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha-0-7ibDLY)

The private clans are thankless. They have outrightly forgotten the favour of support given by the Indian Governments from the public monies.

It is pertinent to remember that Indian governments have given liberty, subsidy and free hand support to the profiteering private clans. Lots of land has been distributed at the cost of Re.1 to the private clans.

The Government seems to have its priority on unnecessary projects like the redevelopment of the Central Vista. The money earmarked for the project can be gainfully used for development of health infrastructure of the country.

Hence, we can learn that complete health system under state control is the actual guarantee for public health.

From Atmnirbhar (Self Dependence) to Beggar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked people to become “Atmanirhabhar’ but the majority of people have become akin to beggars. We realized this when we tried to search for medical help for one of our friends from legal fraternity. We saw people waiting at Radhaswami Satsang, temporarily turned into a Covid Centre and run by Indo-Tibetan Boarder Police (A Para-military force of India).

We queued up for 40 hours at an oxygen plant for getting filled an oxygen cylinder.

Delhi High Court recently told to Centre for arrangement of oxygen “Beg, borrow or steal [oxygen], it is a national emergency,” and consequently we the “Atmnirbhar” Indians are gratefully accepting the charities offered by different nations.

UK, France, Germany, Australia, Russia, Kuwait and Ireland have announced their aid packages. Even Bhutan, forever the recipient, has assured 40 metric tons of liquid oxygen daily. The US has made grand announcements, but not quantified the assistance so far. US Inc, from Amazon to Microsoft, has enumerated the assistance it will extend.

We the dreamer of “Vishwaguru (Teacher of the world)”, recently were exporting oxygen. In fact, its exports had doubled over the last year. The importing of oxygen was at a price higher than we exported. This clamour for oxygen and essential medicines is not only ironic, but also exposing the inhuman and genocidal faces of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Patent Law and Profiteering

Notwithstanding the US announcement of waiver of patent clause on Covid-19 vaccine any agreement would take months of negotiations among the WTO 164 members; therefore, it seems impossible for the moment.

India has signed various international treaties on patent law viz Paris Convention for the protection of industrial property, 1883; Patent Co-operation Treaty, Washington-1970; Budapest Treaty, 1977; and TRIPS Agreement 1994.

What the Indian Government can do in the present scenario is to grant compulsory licensing to Indian companies for enhancing production of the Covid vaccine.

Economic Hardship

Another serious impact of Covid on the life of the people is the loss of employment. Since we have 97% of employment in the informal sector this section has been hit hard. The economy of the country is recording negative GDP growth bringing the per capita income less than Bangladesh. Most of the daily wagers have lost their employment or they are on the brink of starvation. Even many white collared jobs have vanished forever. The Government has to open strings of its purse and also its overflowing warehouses of food grains to save the starving population from dying of hunger.

In the above stated scenario, we invite the government’s urgent attention to the following steps necessary to provide succour to the people of India

1. Procure vaccines centrally from all available sources – global and domestic.

2. Immediate begin a free, universal mass vaccination campaign across the country.

3. Invoke compulsory licensing to expand domestic vaccine production.

4. Spend the budgetary allocation of Rs. 35,000 crores for vaccines.

5. Stop Central Vista Construction.

6. Use the allocated Rs. 20,000 crores for strengthening health infrastructure in the country.

7. Release all money held in unaccounted private trusts, P M Cares Fund, to buy more vaccine, oxygen, ventilators, medical equipment.

8. Government should regulate and supervise the private hospitals during Covid-19 crisis.

9. Provide at least a sum of Rs. 7, 500/- pm to all jobs-less persons in the country.

10. Free distribution of food grains to all needy persons.

Coordination Committee,
Lawyers for Democracy.

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